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no invitation

We are at a 3 year old's birthday party in the back room of a cafe. Music is pumping from a tiny speaker. Balloon animals are popping, and waving in the air. A man in a yellow dinosaur costume dances wildly. Parents snap pictures with satisfied smiles on their faces.

A little girl approaches gingerly and stands in the doorway, straying from her parents somewhere inside the restaurant. She cannot be more than three. It must be hard to ignore all of the noise coming from this room packed with celebration. There is a perfect little pony tail at the back of her head. She hesitates, as one foot poises in the air and then rests back down. How to understand that she was not invited. How to understand the laughter, the loose jumping bodies, the presents piled high on the window. None of this connects to her. There is a little plate of food waiting for her back there, in the quiet restaurant. Maybe a warm bowl of soup, thick with noodles. I watch her for some time.

That night, her empty e…

secret windows (don't look back)

I found myself in a conversation with an old friend, about the crossroads of writing, nostalgia and memory. "Distance and perspective are the upside." I said. "The slippery slope is romanticizing and being nostalgic. Well, that's the memory trap no matter who you are."
"It's funny... I spent most of my life thinking that I had a rather dull adolescence, and it's only recently that I've discovered that these stories are a lot more interesting than I gave them credit." My friend replied.
I admitted that I gravitate towards stories that are based on a mistake, a lie - thinking you had some great childhood, when actually it was a shitshow, and you fantasized about being adopted but sort of blocked that out.  



The question wobbled around inside my head for a few days. Was I too fast to judge nostalgia, to quick to brush aside its sweetness, stepping over it towards something invariably darker and sadder?  On Sunday, I was walking on Kutuzovsky, the cars roaring past as loud as a racetrack. Here is the MTS store, where we bought E's first phone, where I had gone so many times and now the windows are dirty, the inside is strewn with broken office furniture and a sign hangs loose in the wind, "space for rent". I wondered then, about the underrated sugar of nostalgia.

Looking back is easy. The edges are all too often smoothed over. Why not take that as a form of forgiveness? Nostalgia erases the vendetta, the grudge. It forgives. But maybe, just maybe that is the slippery slope I am so scared of. Maybe some things should not be smoothed over. I remember leaving New York for a month when I was 29. I went to Italy for the first time, my heart full of big splashy ideas, a girl to see, a loose plan of cities and streets to explore. It all deflated within hours of arriving, a balloon left out in the cold, hanging like a shriveled party leftover in the corner of a dark room. I still walked countless streets, in Rome and Florence, Bologna and Milan. I ate alone in restaurants, sipping wine and staring at faces. There were piazzas and old clocktowers, children playing, tiny museums. There was a fountain, and a great fog, a carousel with tiny bright lights that turned in a drunken haze. I remember it all. And then I came back to New York, thinking to visit Ferruci's on 1st Avenue, to buy some good rice, some sweet wet young garlic, maybe some black olives to eat while I cooked, a loaf of semolina so I could rip one end off and shove it in my mouth while I walked home, the wind cold on my face. But Ferucci's was gone when I went back. No warning, no announcement. The phantom smell of pecorino and sopressata made me dizzy as I stared into the dark cavern that hid behind the greasy windows. This was a feeling I could not shake off, a heady mix of betrayal and loss, the countless conversations with the two men behind the counter, one red-haired and silly, the other dark and serious, his voice a low whisper. So many nights I lingered, just breathing in that rare air, not ready to go home and cook some bachelor gravy just yet. Was it nostalgia that I felt? I still do not know. I just know how profound this loss was, and how I had been gone when it happened, far far away, staring at rivers through secret windows, shoving bresaola in my mouth, and wandering those streets over and again. 

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